Divine Liturgy (meaning common work, common service, or common action in Greek), or Eucharist (thanksgiving), is the focal point of the life of the Orthodox Church. Holy Fathers define it as the Sacrament above all sacraments or as the Sacrament of the Church. It is the source of all, and it is the final destination to all. It is both the journey to the Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom’s very presence on earth. All other Sacraments are connected to and derive from the Holy Liturgy.
It is in Liturgy that the visible communion of the faithful, with their bishop or bishop’s delegate – the presbyter at their head, becomes the very Church itself, the Body of Christ, and the People of God. Lord Jesus Christ himself founded the Holy Liturgy at the occasion of the Last Supper. He broke the bread, gave it to His holy disciples, and followed it with a cup of wine saying: “Do this in remembrance of me”. In its broadest sense, the Liturgy consists of prayers, chants, readings and sacred rites.
During Liturgy the entire Church, acting on behalf of Christ himself, offers God the sacrifice of thanksgiving thus reviving the memory of our Lord’s death and His Resurrection. After our gifts of bread and wine turn into the body and the blood of Christ we consume them as the Holy Eucharist. By being thus embedded into His structure, we form the perfect communion with Christ and become wholly fulfilled by Him.
Basic structure of the Holy Liturgy is as follows: Proskomede (preparation of bread and wine with the mention of all members of the Church, both living and the departed); Liturgy of the Catechumens (which was in early times obligatory for the catechumens, i.e. those preparing themselves for Baptism; some also call it the Liturgy of the Word because it also includes readings from the Bible – gospels, epistles, and their interpretation – the sermon itself); Liturgy of the Faithful (it starts with the Grand Entrance – transfer of the gifts to the Holy Altar, continues with the offering of gifts and of ourselves to God through the sacrifice of Christ suffered for our sake, and with the invocation of the Holy Spirit and the transformation of gifts); Holy Eucharist and the Dismissal Prayer (priest’s prayer after which we are ready to “depart in peace” back into the world).
Liturgy is celebrated every Sunday, this being the day of the Resurrection of Christ, and on the occasion of all Grand Feasts of Christ, Theotokos and the Saints. It can be served every day and most monastic communities do so regularly. Most of the time the Church celebrates the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysotomos. Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great is served only on special occasions (ten times per year), and the Liturgy of Pre-sanctified Gifts is served exclusively during the Great Lent before Easter.